The introduction of a CPI(M) candidate for the bye-election at the Thrikkakara Assembly seat in Kerala in the presence of Catholic priests on the premises of a church has snowballed into a controversy for the Left.
On Thursday, the CPI(M) announced its candidate, Dr Jo Joseph, at Lisie Hospital in Kochi, where he works as a cardiologist. While Dr Joseph explained his Left leanings, he was flanked by Catholic priests and senior CPI(M) leaders, including central committee member P Rajeeve, a minister.
CPI(M) leaders, their candidate and Catholic priests in a single frame before the media triggered an uneasy debate that CPI(M) is sending a message that its candidate has the backing of the church. The debate gained ground as the decision to field the doctor came after dropping the plan to field young leader K S Arun Kumar. Cadres had already started campaigning for Kumar, a CPI(M) district committee member.
As involvement of church head Cardinal George Alencherry in fixing the CPI(M) candidate was alleged, the church came out with a clarification that the propaganda was deliberately run by vested interest groups. “The bad intention behind the allegation could be understood,” said the church media commission in an official release.
Fr Paul Thekakkattu, senior Catholic priest of Ernakulam archdiocese and former spokesperson for the church, said the CPI(M) would have to pay a heavy price for mixing religion and politics. “There should be a healthy distance between religion and politics. Political leadership should have been more vigilant. The introduction of the party candidate on the premises of a church in the presence of priests triggers doubt if the CPI(M) had abandoned its secular principles. If the report that the Cardinal is involved in fixing the candidate is true, it would have far-reaching consequences,” he said.
Opposition leader V D Satheesan on Saturday said the CPI(M) has dragged the church to the election controversy. “There was an attempt on the part of CPI(M) to project its candidate as a church nominee. Senior politician PC George (who was last week arrested on charges of hate speech against Muslims) has already announced his support for CPI(M) candidate. George said he had hugged the doctor after hearing about his candidature. CPI(M) should make it clear whether its candidate has come with the blessings of George, who spits communal venom,’’ he said.
Deploring the controversy around the party candidate, CPI(M) minister P Rajeeve accused the Congress of dragging the church into the issue. “It is a deliberate attempt to insult the church and its hospital by dragging them into the issue. We had announced the party candidate at the party district office. When we had gone to Lisie hospital to inform the doctor (the candidate) about the decision, they (priests) offered us seats. What is wrong with it? Congress is trying to insult the church,’’ Rajeeve added.